Stand-Alones, Series, or Both?

8271351214_7c6f31f870I know of a guy who wrote a Letter to the Editor. His writing was so good that he was offered a position with the newspaper writing his own column.

He started out writing a letter and found himself doing something much more than what he originally intended.

I relate to that guy. 

I started out to write “stand-alone” books.

However, readers liked my characters. They wanted to read more. I was soon hoodwinked into writing a second book—and now a third.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m glad people want to read more about Marcus, Simon, and the others.

An author has choices when writing a series. 

First choice: build successive books on the previous ones and simply continue the story. In this case, the reader would need to read from Book 1 through the entire series for the progressive story to be understandable.

Second choice: continue with the original characters in Book 1, but be careful to use epilogues and/or prologues—and effective beginning chapters—to make sure important information from previous book(s) is passed along throughout the series. Essentially, books like these can be read as stand-alones.    

Each book can be devoted to a different character, keeping them in the same setting (Ex. On the farm).

Or, each book in the series can focus on the same main character, but in different settings. (Think Gulliver’s Travels).

Or, change the characters, but keep the ongoing theme. (Stories about near-death experiences or angel sightings…)

The possibilities are probably endless. You just have to find that common thread and begin to weave it throughout your series.

In the series I am writing, currently, each book is based on a childhood game, thus the titles Simon Says, Truth or Dare, Tug of War, and so on.

The commonality isn’t just found in the games, but—more importantly—in  the way they make their life choices, the result of those choices, and how each one affects their future.

Surveys tell us that readers latch onto a series or a particular author and will follow them until they become tired or disappointed.

So, writing a series can be an effective way for an author to gain a following—and keep them following—if you give each book your very best effort.

Then—and only then—will they keep coming back for more.

The Boxed Set

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Many readers like to read books in a series.

But what if you haven’t written a series?

What if, like myself, you have written standalones?

A great strategy I will be using in the next year, is the creation of a boxed set of three of my books. Runaways, The Choice, and Simon Says will be packaged as a “set” and given special pricing.

Ideally, sets should have something in common, such as: written in the same genre, taking place in a similar location or time period, and so on.

My three books all have the same basic theme: forgiveness, so they will be advertised as such.

Just another strategy to keep those books flying off the shelves.

Leave Them Wanting More

 

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People often find it hard to pick a book to read. If they have already read and enjoyed one book in a series, they are often likely to purchase the second. This is especially true if they like the characters and enjoy the writing style of the author.

Authors who write a successful first novel with promises to continue their characters, already have a readership that will come back for more. In fact, if they keep their writing fresh, they are likely to come back again and again.

Publishers love books that promise a sequel. If a book sells well, then it follows to reason that the sequel is going to sell just as well.

So what makes a successful series? 

Characters. One—preferably more—that the reader can root for.

Study the successful ones, such as Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Long of the Rings, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and see how they do it.

I have enjoyed  A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket—smart and humorous—as well as a number of Amish books in series by Beverly Lewis.

Go to the bookstore and find the section where you want your book to be some day. Research a popular series and ask yourself what makes them good. Then develop your own character you know readers will want to follow.

While you’re writing the first book for your series, keep in mind things you want to save for your second book, and so on.

So, what are the key elements in writing a series that will keep readers interested in reading book after book?

 *Believable, engaging characters.

*A fascinating world or universe. 

*Great writing!

*A plot that has definite direction…not just stretching the story out so you can get another book published.

Reward your audience for sticking with you by giving them new and fresh content—not just more of the same.

And, at the end of the book, or movie, the consumer should feel satisfied and, as my grandfather used to say,

left wanting even more.

The End?

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I remember going to my first movie with my Uncle Bill—and crying when it was over.

There was no escaping it because “THE END” was written in huge letters on the screen.

The world is full of more sophisticated movie-goers nowadays. No longer are those words written in books or on the silver screen.

So, how does one know the story is over? When the screen goes dark? When there are no more pages to turn?

Well, readers and movie-goers aren’t the only ones that have gotten more sophisticated over the years. Writers have, too.

First of all, we now understand that the ending is a crucial part of the story. It makes that all-important final impression on the consumer.

It provides an emotional sense of closure.

It can:

~provide a summary.

~wrap things up.

~bring the reader full circle.

It should:

~be satisfying.

There is nothing worse, in my estimation, than spending several days reading a book or several hours watching a movie only to end up dissatisfied with the ending.

Who wants to pay good money for a theatre ticket or paperback and walk away feeling gypped, cheated, underestimated, or devalued?

So does that mean that the guy should always get the girl…the fortune hunter must always hit oil…the prodigal should always return?

Yes…and…no.

Given the circumstances of the story, it should end in such a way that we see growth in the main character and it makes sense that it ends the way it does.

For instance, he may not find the pot of gold, but he learns that money doesn’t buy happiness and is content with what he has.

He might not get the girl, but finds someone that is better for him in the long run.

Do we need to see that he settles down in Oklahoma, has a half- dozen kids, and retires to play pickleball the rest of his days???  No. In fact, please don’t nail down every detail. Respect the intelligence of your reader by letting them make some conclusions for themselves.

So, this discussion brings us to question whether this really has to be THE END at all…

Perhaps this is just BOOK ONE in a series.

Maybe this movie will supply enough interesting material for a sequel.

Let’s explore the possibilities…NEXT WEEK.